Perspective. Point of view. Put yourself in someone else's shoes. This concept is something that, as a child, was hounded into my brain. My life was never just my life. My life had an impact on every I came in contact with, and the reverse was for mine: everything other people did had an impact on my life and experiences. The world didn't, and still doesn't, revolve around what I want and need at some exact moment.
While this concept is taught to kindergarteners so they learn to share with their friends and classmates, I worry it is lost sometime between then and adulthood. Our society tends to thrive on narcissism and self-obsession, as a result of image and social media. The world we have built is turning teenagers, and even adults, into people with little perspective. It is important to continue to realize that everyone has a back story and a different life experience than you, and you have to respect that.
It is difficult to balance selfishness and selflessness. It can be easy to become a doormat or a pushover, but with the right mentality and balance, an equilibrium can be found and maintained.
If there is one thing that college has taught me, it is that you never know where someone is coming from. You are never able to make an accurate snap judgement about a person because you can never truly know. The waitress you had may be in a terrible mood because she found out she is being evicted, but she had to come to work even with such terrible news. Your friend may be in a bad mood because she lost someone close to her but isn't ready to share the news. That guy from the street may have given you a mean look when you asked for directions because he was in a hurry and didn't want to be bothered.
Everyone and every situation came to be because of different life paths. It is unfair to treat another person like you understand the situation perfectly when you barely even have half the puzzle pieces. Sure, I completely get being pissed off when someone snaps at me in class or is rude to me at a restaurant. But I also have learned, through life and simple teaching, that I have to find empathy and understanding. I have got to put myself in the other person's shoes and evaluate my own behavior and situational influences. It is not fair to treat someone else as if their life and experiences are less important than my own.
Too often it is assumed that the skill of empathy is mastered as a kid. It is not. It is something that needs to be worked on and toward throughout life. Everyone needs a lesson in empathy and perspective taking every now in then. And I am not saying I am perfect and always listen to the other side of a story when I am real peeved, but I do try more times than not, and that is the important part. Putting in the effort to be an understanding person is really all it takes.